Desk Nap by Adam Lynch

Over on Facebook, I asked my friends a deceptively simple question. Given the option and your current circumstances, would you rather:

  • Earn the same amount of money you do now, but work fewer hours
  • Earn more money than you do now, but work the same (or more) hours

As a society, we’ve come to accept the 40-hour work week as the de facto standard, even though there are plenty of people who work less than that (and consider themselves to be “full-time” employees), just there are many individuals who work far more than 40 hours every week. With the hypothetical possibility of working as much or as little as we’d like, this is a very real decision we make every day, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Work as Much or as Little as You Want

The stark reality of this choice is perhaps even more obvious with the entrepreneurs and freelancers among us. In theory, we can take on as much or as little work as we’d like. If I want to earn more money, I could approach more clients and tackle more projects. If I want more free time, I could be much more selective with my clients, respectfully declining work that I may have otherwise accepted.

A few months ago, I published a guest post on the math behind scaling your online business. If you’re currently working 20 hours each week and you’re not earning enough money to pay the bills, it’s a no-brainer that you might consider increasing your workload in order to increase your earning potential.

But what if you aren’t living paycheck-to-paycheck? How much more incremental happiness will that added income bring when compared to the happiness you may enjoy from working less?

Informal Poll Results

Keeping in mind that my Facebook friends may not necessarily comprise the most representative sample of the general population, a definite trend emerged among the responses. On the whole, the votes were split pretty evenly with 9 people saying they’d rather work less (45%) while 11 people said they’d rather earn more money (55%). Given the sample size, I’d say the difference wasn’t statistically significant.

Work Less or Earn More?

Where a difference really emerged was when I started to take individual circumstances into account, particularly when it came to family life. Friends with children generally wanted to let life to take priority over work, while single and childless friends were more interested in more money. With the latter, many saw their single life as an opportunity to build up the nest egg for later on when they might choose to start a family.

Work Less or Earn More?

Of the 9 people who said they’d rather work less, 7 are parents (about 78%) , a few of whom specifically stated that they’d rather spend more time with family. Of the 11 people who said they’d rather earn more, 8 do not have children of their own (about 73%). That says a lot about how priorities change as your life circumstances change.

A Purely Hypothetical Choice?

Some people might look at this poll and view it as nothing more than a hypothetical thought experiment and one that doesn’t really play out in the real world. If you want a career in XYZ industry, you can expect to work a certain number of hours every week to have a “full-time” position. Right? But by choosing that kind of job in that kind of industry, you’ve already made the choice of how much you want to work to a degree.

It is a choice. It’s your decision to make. After you’ve reached a certain minimum threshold for what might be considered a “comfortable” income, do you really want to work yourself to exhaustion for more money? Or is now the time to earn as much as you can while you still can, because you never know what tomorrow might or might not bring?

Image credit: Adam Lynch (Flickr)